National Press Club @59

AS the 59th year of existence of the National Press Club of the Philippines is being heralded, a look at the number gives an impression that indeed it is a strong union now, and that the founding fathers deserve all the praises for giving human faces to the faith that binds all journalists, the abstract idea of freedom of the press.

Despite this age of strength, the dark clouds tell of the rough seas ahead for the National Press Club to keep the flag of the press waving freely in the sky.

Many of these clouds are the cries of justice by and for the 33 brethren who were among the 58 killed on November 23, 2009 in Maguindanao province. The act done in the most brutal manner in memory is enough for the conscience to revolt.  No one journalist can forget the Ampatuan Massacre.

Among those in the nimbus are the 10 journalists who have been so far killed under the administration of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III. Among the contentious murders is that of Doctor Gerry Ortega whose killing has dragged the names of former governors Joel T. Reyes of Palawan and Antonio Carreon of Marinduque.

The NPC has been joining actions and conducting its own for purposes and effects that implant a very loud and firm message in the minds of the public, politicos included, that it is not acceptable to the society to kill any journalist.

NPC is defined as “press freedom.”

The Club has no power to punish those who killed journalists. But it can resort to remedies like shame campaigns that send passionate and clear declarations that put them in public contempt no end.  The NPC can also go to courts and call the attention of those who may have involved themselves in any form of suppression of the press or who may have power to act to sanction the oppressors.

Shame campaigns have proven to be powerful enough to prick the recess of their conscience, that no matter how long they live on earth they will never ever have peace in their body and soul and they will feel the extreme pain karma can do for the journalists.  The bottom line of all these is to achieve a society that understands so that there will be no more deaths on any journalist.

Shame campaigns will also give birth to new strong culture and tradition that ostracize those who stray and make those who are minded otherwise to feel hard to break loose from the thought of a curse of the society.

The Club can also file petitions in court.

Thus, the Supreme Court granted its prayer to convert the Ampatuan Massacre Trial court into a special court handling only this case. The Highest Tribunal also granted live video coverage of the trial in response to the petition filed by allied groups that was supported by the NPC.

The Club also filed criminal and administrative cases against Kalinga Governor Jocel Baac to take the cudgels for a victim who cannot fight evenly just so the wheel of justice can have space.   The governor invaded the announcer’s booth of dyRK and smashed announcer Jerome Tabanganay with a microphone on the mouth.

The Club can make its presence strongly felt to warn those who disrespect press freedom and to give moral strength to the victim reporters.

On behalf of the three radio broadcasters in Dipolog City, including Ryan D. Uy, who were implanted with shabu in order for them to be jailed without bail to prevent them from criticizing the city officials, the NPC wrote complaint letters to the Ombudsman, the Commission on Human Rights, the National Bureau of Investigation, the Philippine National Police, the Department of Justice, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government.  These acts somehow emboldened the local press to fight on for justice despite the fear hovering over them that one of them would be the next to be set up for planting of evidence.  Thus, the Ombudsman suspended then Dipolog Chief of Police Supt. Reynaldo M. Maclang for human rights violations.

On behalf of the journalists who have been ordered to vacate their press office at the Land Transportation Office, the Club wrote LTO chief Virgie Torres asking her to withdraw the eviction notice.   It also complained to the Office of the President, and the Department of Transportation and Communications.  Somehow, the tension has vanished.

The NPC also acted on behalf of a newsman in Cavite bullied by a strongman of Tagaytay City.  The Club complained to the Supreme Court about it.  This resulted in the taming of this dragon of that vacation city.

The NPC also wrote the mayor of Calapan City, Atty. Salvador Juachon, to remind him that while it is his right to file a libel case it is his duty to give his opponents-reporters the right to defend themselves.

What happened in Calapan was that reporters Juancho Mahusay of the Philippine Star and Pat Sigue were not even informed of a complaint for libel filed by the mayor against them.  The journalists got shocked by the warrant issued by the court where the judge is a brother of Calapan City Councilor Joey Leynes who, in turn, is a party mate of the mayor.

The story of things done is long but the essence is the same. The Club has been doing even simple remedies it can do the least yet these have proven to be big boosts for press freedom.

The struggle against “envelopmental” journalism is true and steep uphill.

Many journalists are suppressed by poverty and are aware it is a taboo to accept envelopes yet they can only do so much.   The Club has no power to carry the journalists to financial independence.  But this is not a reason for the NPC to rest on that hard and brutal life.

Knowing housing problem is a single big weakness of every journalist, the NPC has decided to roll the P6 million left of the proceeds from the sale of the Vicente Manansala mural in order to build 48 houses for its members, on a first-come-first-serve basis.

The NPC has engaged in a joint venture with the lot owner and a philanthropic contractor to build these homes in four phases.   It sealed an agreement with the National Homeowner Mortgage Finance Corp. or Pag-Ibig to process the loan applications to be released immediately to be paid to the Club. The ultimate purpose is for the journalists concerned to have houses while the P6 million is kept back intact with small margins, ready for the next housing projects under the same purpose: to empower the newsmen to be more financially independent to withstand the substance of the envelopes.

The NPC has continuously held seminars on ethics, libel and other laws affecting the journalists’ practice, in the belief that repeated reminders would strengthen the call of conscience in the minds.

Now, a brief look back could connect the dots imprinted in the past to understand why the founding fathers just simply called the organization as the “CLUB” and not with a more passionate and more emphatic term “fraternity.”

Juxtapose “club” over NPC’s map of history and it shows the genius why they christened it “National Press Club” and not “National Press Fraternity” or “National Press Institute” or “National Press Guild.”

As a club, it must have given out a subtle message that all journalists from all ideologues have been welcome.  Its past saw media persons from the right, the center, and the left converging in one place called the “Press Club” for socials that have given birth to subliminal bonds to keep them together and help each other even to the risk of getting eyed by oppressive regimes.

As a fraternity, it could have crumbled early on because the word requires more than just friendship, but brotherhood in beliefs.  Under the name “fraternity” the NPC could have one period dominated by leftist, centrist, or rightist journalists to the exclusion of all others.  Just imagine what could have happened to the NPC during the Marcos regime if it was being thought of as front for the Reds?

The name “Club” also easily accommodated journalists from all religions or fraternities or races or political parties that could be otherwise if it were named “fraternity.”

The possibilities may be endless but the essence is that the word “club” is neutral to be amiable to all.

By this year’s theme, “NPC @ 59: We Define,” the members of the Club can rest assured of leadership in upholding press freedom, protecting its brethren and the rest of the journalists from forces that have never ceased to clamp and claw, and insisting in the boldest terms for the liberty of the press to continue to live.

Let there be life forever for the press!


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